A defining moment
Over ten years ago, I first put a page on my website giving my definition of corporate social responsibility. At that time, there weren't too many such definitions out there. It's still there, and the definition hasn't changed.
"CSR is about how companies manage the business processes to produce an overall positive impact on society."
When it was first created, this was as much a campaigning or aspirational statement as anything. Quite a few people believed CSR to be purely about philanthropy, about the extras rather than about how the company makes its money.
I've been mildly gratified to see it repeated in various places, including some quite surprising ones.
And it was soon joined by much more authoritative statements by august bodies, including a reasonably convoluted one from the European Commission.
Convoluted definitions usually come about for good reasons - that is that the authors are trying to express an idea very specifically and with no chance of misinterpretation. It's why academia can appear so perplexing to non-academics. The language is there for a reason -but it can actually seem to obscure meaning sometimes.
My aim on this website has always been to simplify - both definitions and the style of commentary. I get lots of comments from people who have found this helpful to them over the years, and I've always appreciated knowing that the work that goes into this site has been of use to people.
Why am I talking about this now? Because, of course, the European Commission has just released a new communication about CSR - along with a new definition.
"The responsibility of enterprises for their impacts on society."
Heck - the closeness of our definitions now is striking - except they managed to be even more succinct and brief than I did!
I still prefer mine - why? Because I see in it a presumption that businesses have both negative and positive impacts, and the aim is for companies to produce an overall positive balance. You could read the EU definition as being purely about companies taking responsibility for their negatives.
If you look into the narrative the Commission gives around its definition, you see a positive intent. "... how we can maximise shared value which serves the interest of business and society at one and the same time."
Ultimately, of course, these definitions are only useful so far as they describe real phenomena and are tools that companies can use to create the right kind of change. I do think there's some momentum building behind the kind of approach that both companies and society agree is mutually beneficial - which is all to the good.
Posted on: 31 Oct 2011